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Keith Pavlischek August 29, 2012
In my last post, I used the mass murder of Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin to illustrate the views of what I called "Seamless Garment Pacifism." That view condemns as wrong (or evil or wicked) the threat or use of deadly force in all instances, even the killing of a mass murder in the midst of his act. As I said at the conclusion of that post, most Christians are not particularly inclined to this way of thinking about law enforcement officers, soldiers or the use of deadly force.
One way that Christians have historically handled this issue is to concede that while any society needs police officers and soldiers to respond to threats to the public order from mass murderers, criminals, and foreign enemies, those "worldly" tasks are not permissible or proper for Christians. While they can defend and even commend a police officer for using lethal force to protect the innocent from murderers and other evils, they would consider it wrong or sinful or "worldly" for a Christian to do the same thing.
This viewpoint can be called "radical dualism" or "sectarian pacifism" because it proposes a radical difference in ethical norms between those in the "world" and those in the "Church," and because they believe that Christians should separate from worldly professions. This view is found today among many conservative Mennonites, most notably among the Amish, and it has gained a certain favor, with various degrees of intellectual and moral consistency, among the "neo-Anabaptist" followers of John Howard Yoder, and more recently Stanley Hauerwas.
Historically, this is the view expressed in Article 6 of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. The relevant section is Article VI.
We are agreed as follows concerning the sword: The sword is ordained of God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and puts to death the wicked, and guards and protects the good. In the Law the sword was ordained for the punishment of the wicked and for their death, and the same (sword) is (now) ordained to be used by the worldly magistrates.
The first point to observe about this form of pacifism is that unlike "seamless garment pacifism," these Anabaptists pacifists aren't simply saying that "killing is killing and killing is wrong." They agree with Paul in Romans 13 that God puts the sword in the hands of "worldly magistrates" and expects them to do their duty by punishing the wicked, even unto death if necessary.
But the second point to notice is the dualism. The sword is ordained for the worldly magistrates but it is "outside the perfection of Christ." The confession then proceeds to spell out exactly what that means:
In the perfection of Christ, however, only the ban is used for a warning and for the excommunication of the one who has sinned, without putting the flesh to death - simply the warning and the command to sin no more.
In the "perfection of Christ," which finds institutional expression in the Church, the community of confessing Christian believers, the maximum permissible punishment is excommunication. What does imply for the use of the "sword" or the use of deadly force by a police officer or "magistrate" who might happen to also be a member of the church, or the community of believers? In a word, it is forbidden.
Here, it is worth quoting the confession at length to show the reasoning used to defend their dualism and their pacifism.
Now it will be asked by many who do not recognize (this as) the will of Christ for us, whether a Christian may or should employ the sword against the wicked for the defense and protection of the good, or for the sake of love.
Our reply is unanimously as follows: Christ teaches and commands us to learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly in heart and so shall we find rest to our souls. Also Christ says to the heathenish woman who was taken in adultery, not that one should stone her according to the Law of His Father (and yet He says, As the Father has commanded me, thus I do), but in mercy and forgiveness and warning, to sin no more. Such (an attitude) we also ought to take completely according to the rule of the ban.
Secondly, it will be asked concerning the sword, whether a Christian shall pass sentence in worldly disputes and strife such as unbelievers have with one another. This is our united answer. Christ did not wish to decide or pass judgment between brother and brother in the case of the inheritance, but refused to do so. Therefore we should do likewise.
Thirdly, it will be asked concerning the sword, Shall one be a magistrate if one should be chosen as such? The answer is as follows: They wished to make Christ king, but He fled and did not view it as the arrangement of His Father. Thus shall we do as He did, and follow Him, and so shall we not walk in darkness. For He Himself says, He who wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. Also, He Himself forbids the (employment of) the force of the sword saying, The worldly princes lord it over them, etc., but not so shall it be with you. Further, Paul says, Whom God did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, etc. Also Peter says, Christ has suffered (not ruled) and left us an example, that ye should follow His steps.
Finally it will be observed that it is not appropriate for a Christian to serve as a magistrate because of these points: The government magistracy is according to the flesh, but the Christian's is according to the Spirit; their houses and dwelling remain in this world, but the Christian's are in heaven; their citizenship is in this world, but the Christian's citizenship is in heaven; the weapons of their conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christian's weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the devil. The worldlings are armed with steel and iron, but the Christians are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God. In brief, as in the mind of God toward us, so shall the mind of the members of the body of Christ be through Him in all things, that there may be no schism in the body through which it would be destroyed. For every kingdom divided against itself will be destroyed. Now since Christ is as it is written of Him, His members must also be the same, that His body may remain complete and united to its own advancement and upbuilding.
In future posts I will discuss why this dualism and sectarian pacifism has been explicitly repudiated by Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic Christians.
For now I want to emphasize two fundamental points. First, when "sectarian pacifists" insist that Christians should never serve as police officers or soldiers they are not merely adopting a position of "vocational pacifism." They are not merely saying that a certain class of Christians, such as monks or priests, are called to a different vocation and that they, in particular, should not serve as law enforcement officers or soldiers. Nor are they merely saying that some Christians are not called to be soldiers or police officers because their talents and gifts lie elsewhere, perhaps as teachers, artists, farmers business entrepreneurs and the like. They are making a much stronger and decisive moral judgment, namely that it is always wrong for a Christian to serve as a police officer or soldier.
The second point is that the early Anabaptists knew quite well that it would be inconsistent and incoherent to only seal off as impermissible for the Christian those who are responsible for enforcing civil laws (e.g., the civil magistrates or as we say today police officer or soldier) without also sealing off as impermissible those who make and enforce the "worldly" laws that require "worldly" enforcement. Political life and service in the secular courts, for these sectarian pacifists is also "outside the perfection of Christ."
One of the great problems with contemporary pacifism-- and quite frankly a major reason why it is so hard to take contemporary pacifists all that seriously these days-- is that pacifists, in agreement with the sectarian pacifists, want to seal off as impermissible the roles of police officer and soldier, but they also want to embrace as entirely permissible the political office. They believe Christians can permissibly serve as legislators and judges. More generally, they endorse and embrace Christian participation in politics and political life and even consider it as one way of "being prophetic." In other words, contemporary pacifists, unlike the sectarian pacifists, are willing to pass criminal laws, laws that provide for the common defense or laws that promote "social justice" all of which require enforcement and require punishment for law-breakers. And yet they continue to believe it would be wrong for Christians to do enforce and punish those who violate the very laws that they have passed.
If you tend to think that this doesn't make any sense, you are right.
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